The Minnesota Timberwolves entered Tuesday night’s game in Orlando as one of the hottest teams in the NBA, riding a five-game winning streak while performing as many envisioned they would before the season began.
That was until they met the Orlando Magic, who entered the game having lost seven in a row, good enough for the last place in the league standings.
For whatever reason, these are the types of games – road games against on-paper inferior competition – the Wolves have struggled with this season.
And on Tuesday night at Amway Center, that was the case once again, as Minnesota fell to Orlando 108-102, snapping the Wolves’ five-game winning streak.
The game kicked off as a back-and-forth game, with a lack of energy on both sides clearly present.
The start was almost the exact opposite of what we’ve seen from the Wolves recently, where they’ve had great energy out of the gate, resulting in early leads.
But midway through the second quarter, that energy kicked up a notch, when tempers flared between Orlando’s Arron Afflalo and Minnesota’s Nemanja Bjelica. With 7:28 left in the second quarter and the Wolves up 36-34, Afflalo threw a punch directed at Bjelica a few plays after the two players exchanged a few words.
As a result, Afflalo was ejected from the game. Bjelica, who was just trying to avoid being punched in the face, put Afflalo in a headlock and was also ejected.
Following the dust-up, the pace of the game started to improve, but Karl-Anthony Towns even said in his halftime interview with Fox Sports North’s Marney Gellner that the team needed to open the second half playing with much more energy and a sense of urgency in order to come away with a win.
In the second half, that energy and urgency never really came. Minnesota ran into the same issues it did in the first half, with Evan Fournier and D.J. Augustin carving up the Wolves defense.
Fournier led Orlando with a career-high 32 points, while Augustin finished with 18 points and six assists.
Evan Fournier is on ????!
— NBA (@NBA) January 17, 2018
Whenever Minnesota went out on a little run in the second half, Orlando seemed to answer with an even bigger run. That ended up being too much for the Wolves with about five minutes left in the game, when a final Magic run put the game away.
Despite the loss, Minnesota displayed a balanced attack offensively, with four starters finishing in double figures.
Jimmy Bulter finished with 28 points and seven rebounds, Taj Gibson had 18 points and seven rebounds, Towns tallied his NBA-leading 38th double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds and Jeff Teague added 13 points and six assists.
This is how you become the league leader in double-doubles. pic.twitter.com/wuGg9qWM6n
— Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) January 17, 2018
With the loss, the Wolves dropped to 29-17 on the season while seeing their disappointing record against Eastern Conference opponents fall to 6-11. Minnesota also fell a half-game behind San Antonio for third place in the West.
In a game that included two very different teams, one that was riding high on a five-game winning streak while the other was searching for its first win in eight games, Tuesday’s loss was certainly a disappointing one for the Wolves.
Minnesota looks to bounce back on Thursday in a tough matchup against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center, a game that will feature two of the top four teams in the Western Conference.